excerpts and quotations form the book
Money and Politics
Financing Our Elections Democratically
by David Donnelly, Janice Fine, Ellen S. Miller
Beacon Press, 1999
David Hume, 1758
"Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human
affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which
the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission
with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those
of the rulers. When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected,
we shall find out that, as Force is always on the side of the
governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.
It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded,
and the maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments
as well as the most free and popular."
To deny inconvenient opinions a hearing is one way the few have
of controlling the many.
... the printed word in the form of "news" is propaganda
disguised as fact ...
The few will always control the many through manufactured opinion,
which bedazzles and confuses the many when it is not just plain
dumbing them down into the dust ...
... our system of electing politicians to office is rotten and
corrupted to its core, because organized money has long since
replaced organized people as the author of our politics. And most
of it comes from rich people and corporations, who now own our
political process-lock, stock, and pork barrel.
Of the billions now spent each election cycle, most is donated
in checks exceeding $I,000. But less than one-tenth of I percent
of the general population make individual contributions at this
rate. And among group contributors, better than 90 percent comes
In the I996 election cycle less than one-fourth of 1 percent of
the American people [approximately 600,000] gave contributions
of $200 or more to a federal candidate. Only 4 percent made any
contribution of any size to any candidate for office-federal,
state, or local. On average, only 20 percent of the money came
from individuals giving contributions of less than $200 per candidate.
That means that an astonishing 80 percent of political money came
from the tiny group of donors who gave $200 or more.
Business interests already contribute seven times as much as labor
organizations do, and ten times as much as ideological groups.
For example, in I996, energy interests gave $2I million in congressional
races, whereas environmental groups gave just $2 million.
Barney Frank, Democrat, Massachusetts
We are the only human beings in the world who are expected
to take thousands of dollars from perfect strangers on important
matters and not be affected by it.
PACs are now responsible for only 25 percent of funding for congressional
campaigns. And because PACs are not the exclusive vehicle for
wealthy donors, a PAC ban might further slant the playing field:
it would disarm labor unions and other interest groups that raise
their money from a large number of small contributions from their
members. Business interests do not now rely on PACs for their
political contributions. If PACs were banned tomorrow, business
would simply channel all, rather than most, of its money through
large individual contributions. A PAC ban, if constitutional,
would take us back to the days when there were no PACs and most
of the money used to finance political campaigns came from wealthy
[In 1976] in Buckley v. Valeo ... the [Supreme] Court ruled that
political spending was protected by the First Amendment, in effect
equating money with speech ... Because of Buckley, there can be
no mandatory spending limits and any system of public financing
Though Americans accept the legitimacy of the economic inequality
that enables the rich to buy fancier cars and more homes, they
do not generally accept the current role of private money in our
political system because they do not think that the rich are entitled
to greater political representation. But the current system establishes
precisely that entitlement: it effectively allocates political
power according to economic status, and treats participation in
the political system just as it treats participation in the marketplace.
The real scandal in our political system is what is legal.
We need to name the enemy - the rich people and corporations who
have bought government lock, stock, and barrel.
Limit contributions to a size within the reach of average citizens,
such as a maximum of $I00, so everyone is on a more level playing
field when it comes to participating in politics; limit the amount
of money a candidate can accept from outside his or her district
to (say) no more than 25 percent of total fund-raising, thereby
forcing reliance on support from constituents entitled to vote
for a candidate; limit spending (including independent and personal
expenditures) to low levels that allow candidates who do not depend
on large contributions to nonetheless raise sufficient money to
compete; and severely limit big-money PACs while empowering people
PACs, which take only very small donations.
We must take steps to increase voter participation. These efforts
should include-but not be limited to early voting, same-day voting,
vote-by-mail, twenty-four-hour voting, and making election day
a national holiday.
the Electoral Process